Cincinnati Reds: Tyler Stephenson will make a difference in 2021

Sep 14, 2020; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Reds pinch hitter Tyler Stephenson (37) reacts as he runs the bases after hitting a walk off two-run home run. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 14, 2020; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Reds pinch hitter Tyler Stephenson (37) reacts as he runs the bases after hitting a walk off two-run home run. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Stephenson will be the biggest difference maker on the Reds next season.

Here’s to all of us getting to hear Joe Zerhusen’s booming voice introduce the Cincinnati faithful to catcher Tyler Stephenson at Great American Ball Park at some point in this new year. The 23-year-old introduced himself to Reds fans last year with a big swing in his first at-bat, sending the ball back, back, back and gone. But can we expect more of that from the big-swinging Stephenson this coming season?

Based off of an encouraging comparison, I’d say yes! With some fan input, I compiled a list of 20 Reds catchers since Johnny Bench that include significant starters and other fan favorites. Of those 20 catchers, only six of them were drafted by the Reds, grew with the Reds and played for the Reds. (Yes, I’m counting Ed Taubensee based off when the transactions took place.)

Of those six players drafted by Cincinnati, only four of them are post-1995. And of those four, two stick out.

  • Player A: 6-foot, 1-inch, 229-pounds, right-handed batter, big swing, .260/.336/.424
  • Player B: 6-foot, 4 inch, 225-pounds, right-handed batter, big swing, .263/.350/.390

Player B is Tyler Stephenson. That is his slashline from his five years in the minor leagues. It’s very similar to the slashline of Player A’s first five minor league seasons. Player A went on to become a leader of the Reds offense for two-years and a 2014 All-Star.

Since 1995, Player A is the only catcher to lead a Cincinnati Reds team in batting average during a single season. (No, I’m not counting The Lavarnway Rally of ’19. Sorry, Ryan.) Player A is Devin Mesoraco, The Forgotten One.

Yes, Mesoraco was plagued by injuries that he sadly never really returned from and that, unfortunately, is what folks remember. Many forget that in his two full-length seasons in Cincinnati, Mesoraco had an OPS of .726, hit 43 home runs and was an All-Star!

In his 2014 All-Star campaign, Devin Mesoraco’s team-leading batting average of .273 coupled with his slugging percentage of .534 made him a difference maker at the plate. A difference maker at the plate. That is why Tyler Stephenson will be the best addition to the Cincinnati Reds offense because he can make a difference in the lineup.

Will he be a superstar slugger? Will he grow a mullet or a handlebar mustache? Heck, maybe. But in the words of Bryan Price, “How does that help the Cincinnati Reds?” The Reds don’t need superstars right now. They need production at the plate–and certainly more offensive production from their catchers.

With two homers and six RBIs during a crucial stretch of games, Stephenson definitely showed he can make a difference on the big stage. His OPS has only been below .700 once in his short career during a rough patch with Dayton in 2016.

But recently it’s been nowhere but up for Stephenson. Since 2019, Tyler Stephenson has had 378 at-bats in 110 games between Double-A, the Arizona Fall League, and his debut in the majors. In that span, he is slashing .309/.397/.516 with eight homers and 56 RBIs.

Stephenson is on his way a little quicker than Mesoraco was and I would like to think there isn’t a big injury in his future. But there is one more similarity they share, and that is striking out. Stephenson has had spells of whiffs and strikeouts that can worry some folks. He’s also never played at the Triple-A level.

However, with a full spring training and full season, look for Stephenson and the coaching staff to put those worries to rest with some good old fashioned momentum. Plus, Stephenson will very likely only be batting in analytically advantageous situations– as will Barnhart. On paper, the trends and numbers look great for Tyler Stephenson’s 2021 season at the plate.

Cincinnati Reds fans should be excited to finally see new homegrown talent at catcher. We’re certainly no strangers to the multitude of characters to play catcher for the Reds. Of course there’s the greatest catcher of all-time, Johnny Bench. But even since Bench, there’s certainly been an interesting bunch of guys to catch in Cincinnati.

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Whether you rock a stylin’ mullet, hit an Opening Day walk-off homer, you’re just a super nice guy, or your name is Corky Miller; Reds fans have been blessed over the years with some great characters at backstop that have turned into everlasting fan favorites. Already on his way to fan favoritism, Tyler Stephenson surely has what it takes to be the best addition to the Cincinnati offense in 2021.